Love gardening, but don’t have the room for it? Don’t despair

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  • May 28, 2019
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Jim Boldt near an apple espalier at Toledo Metropark's Toledo Botanical Garden.

You have a green thumb, but you live in a third-floor apartment with a balcony.

All is not lost when gardeners think vertically instead of horizontally, gardening experts say.

Flowers, green plants, and even some vegetables do well in pots, grown up along trellises or fences, or even in unconventional containers, if gardeners follow some simple rules.

“They first need to assess the site to see how much sun they can get in areas outside a front or back door,” said Amy Stone, extension educator for the OSU Extension Office in Lucas County.

Once a person establishes that he or she has a sunny spot or perhaps is dealing with a shady location, it’s time to decide what to grow.

And what to grow it in.

Growing in small spaces

“The No. 1 rule is that the containers do have holes and some kind of drainage,” Stone said. “Make sure you choose a container that will provide the support those plants are going to need as they continue to grow.”

Potted plants should be grown in soil-less growing mediums that have better drainage, including peat moss, perlite, vermiculite, and cocoa shells, and should not be overcrowded, she said.

“As the season progresses, the plants won’t grow as well because they are competing for space and water,” Stone said.

If you are looking to eat your earnings, most vegetables require quite a bit of sun. Smaller cherry and grape tomatoes, peppers, lettuces, and all herbs do well in smaller spaces, Stone said.

Having a portable vessel also helps, as the sun traverses the sky, said Jim Boldt, a member of the Maumee Valley Herb Society and the Black Swamp Hosta & Daylily Society.

“The thing that’s nice about the pots is you can follow the sun,” Boldt said.

If you are just looking to pretty up the place, there are hundreds of varieties of mini-hostas to consider, said Harold Hoffman, also a member of the Maumee Valley Herb Society and the Black Swamp Hosta & Daylily Society.

“They can be put in a pot on a balcony of an apartment and they don’t need a lot of sun so you don’t have to worry about the exposure. They are minimal maintenance,” Hoffman said.

Other flowers that do well in smaller areas are vining plants, coleus, begonias, miniature zinnias, and impatiens.

Get Creative

At Toledo Botanical Garden, Boldt and Hoffman help maintain the hosta and herb gardens every week, and five apple trees and one pear tree grow up against a fence, their branches reaching out horizontally against the wood.

It’s called espalier, a method of pruning that originated in the European orchards. Individuals there tied the branches to wires along the fence or wall to train them to grow parallel or up. The 20-plus-year-old trees at the Garden there are mostly for aesthetic purposes, but do produce fruit, Hoffman said.

Gardeners can also consider growing these trees to produce fruit while also saving space if pruned in this manner.

“You can actually buy these trees where the espalier is already started. It might be two or three arms but it will be a small tree and you can put it where you want and grow it up against your wall or your fence,” Hoffman said, adding that they usually start producing fruit after three or four years.

Dwarf trees are also an option for container gardening, he said.

Creativity can show its face in the kind of containers a gardener uses. Vertical gardening — sometimes called live wall gardening — can consist of clay pots, tin cans, baskets, shelves or stacked crates secured to ladders, fences, a standalone or structure wall, or even pallets.

People have been known to plant vegetables and flowers in the drawers of an old dresser, or shoe holders normally secured to the back of a bedroom door.

“You can actually use a burlap bag or cloth bag and hang the plants on walls. It’s something that someone can do in their backyard quickly and easily, or on a porch,” said Steve Stockford, Metroparks services supervisor.